Thursday, June 7, 2012

Are latency and quality of service the keys to crowning the next mobile game master?

We’ve touched on the possibilities of developing the mobile and social aspects of gaming through better voice integration. But let’s get down to the details.  The mobile gaming market is now dominated by either simple games like Angry Birds or Doodle Jump, or mobile versions of the old games included for free on PCs, such as FreeCell and Minesweeper. 

Both these categories are incredibly successful, as mobile gaming companies have leveraged the huge installed mobile user base and the emotional attachment players develop to games that occupy their commutes and spare moments. The gaming demographic is also skewing older, with wealthier players who are more willing to pay for content but also with less time to sit in front of their TV playing at home.

But what about the next step, as in making money? How can operators and gaming companies create experiences to attract both serious gamers to the mobile sphere and casual gamers to more involved – and more lucrative – games?

How about quality of service?

Today most teams in popular multiplayer PC-games like World of Warcraft communicate on services like Skype or Ventrilio, running in parallel to their game, while also using text chat within the game. This ad hoc system could run into trouble if used on mobile networks, especially if the network neutrality debate ends in a way that encourages more operators to follow the lead of TeliaSonera and start charging for mobile VoIP use.

Also, just practically, simultaneous texting and playing, on either a tablet or smartphone is a challenge considering the size of the keyboard on either device.

Latency is also a huge issue in games. Just the slightest pause could mean that your avatar gets shot and killed, especially when facing a player from a high-speed broadband connection.

Fixing this is not as hard as it might appear. Only a small portion of gaming data needs to be prioritized to increase the user experience – perhaps voice communication and certain immediate game functions (like bullets flying).

The gaming industry is in flux right now. The distribution system for the dominant consoles like Wii, Xbox and PlayStation has been oddly unaffected by the digital distribution, with millions of games still sold at stores and then taken home to be inserted into the console.

That is changing, just like in music, movies and journalism. And that means there are openings for new players, whether they be EASports alumni, Czech gaming studios, Japanese social networks … or a telecom incumbent.

Device manufacturers and operators need content that separates itself in terms of quality and functionality. But what if their app stores featured real-time on-line games with integrated voice?  Or prioritization through quality of service? What if the players were billed in the game instead of on their phone bill?

Could this help them compete against the likes of Apple (AppStore) and Google (Google Play, formerly Android Market)?

And will they hit the play button in time?

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